I learned to ride a bicycle last month, at the age of 31. I didn’t learn as a kid. My dad tried, but he let go and I fell. He meant well, and this was the way everyone else I know learned, but I never went back on one. One of my biggest fears is falling. I’ve pretty much accepted the fact that I would never be able to ride a bike. Once you reach a certain age without learning, you just sort of accept it as your truth, that you’re going to grow old without knowing how.
But one spring afternoon in 2012, I saw people riding their bicycles by a river in Kyoto, and it was a beautiful sight. It felt peaceful. And I was saddened thinking I’d never be able to do that. After making arrangements for our October trip this year, I decided to learn. I got a foldable bicycle last April 2, a Dahon City Vybe. I had a more affordable Peerless foldie in mind, but it wasn’t in stock and I had to wait for the next shipment to arrive. The Dahon felt right when I tried it on, so we got it before I could change my mind.
I named her Kawaakari. It means “the gleam of last light on a river’s surface at dusk; the glow of a river in the darkness”. I’ve been chronicling my learning adventures on Instagram and Facebook, and when I posted a photo of it for the first time, I wrote “We’re going to prove that you can teach an old dog new tricks. And if we don’t, well, expect her to be on sale in a month or two.”
I sold her about an hour ago, not because I gave up, but because I learned and wanted to move on to a full size bike already. I don’t get to ride enough to make good use of two bicycles, and it seems wasteful to hold on to it. It went to another couple, Jets and Rhona, who are friends of ours from the wedding industry. He is going to teach her how to ride on it, too, and that makes me happy because even though my story with the foldie has ended, it’s starting a new one with another. My little bicycle, the teacher, is moving on, too.
My goal was to ride a bicycle in Japan, but since I learned before our trip to Australia, I was able to ride a bike there, too. (Thanks to the lovely Cat Juan for her amazing guide to Sydney.) That was my first time on a full size bike, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it came easily. The feeling of finally being able to ride one is indescribable, even more being able to do it in another country. Continent, even. For people who’ve been cycling since they were toddlers, they probably won’t understand the exhilaration, relief, and pride of learning it as adult, because they picked it up easily as kids. But for someone who honestly never imagined ever being able to ride her entire life, it’s priceless. It’s not earth-shatteringly important, and I won’t be winning any cycling medals anytime soon or even in this lifetime, but it is a personal victory against fear and defeatism. One other thing I have learned as an adult is to take my joys in everything I can. Life is too short to be too cool to be happy.
LEARNING HOW TO RIDE A BICYCLE AS AN ADULT WITHOUT FALLING, DYING, OR MAIMING OTHERS
Our son is 2.5 years old now so we were looking into getting him a Strider bike. It’s a no-pedal balance bike, specifically made to teach little kids how to ride minus all the falling that comes with teaching it the traditional way, which is to push them along and let go. This way, the child learns to ride on his own, in his own time. And then it occurred to me that I could learn this way, too. This is why the foldie was perfect to learn on, because my feet were flat on the ground with it. I did a lot of online research before and while I was learning. There’s pretty good advice here. There are also videos available, and a funny article on The New York Times on The Terror and Humiliation of Learning to Ride a Bike at 33.
Jeff was so incredibly patient teaching me and encouraging me, and I will always be grateful. My husband is my hero. On regular (walking) days, I’m already a handful. Me on a bicycle is chaos and murder on wheels. He walked beside me while I struggled to find my balance. He would cheer me on and he let out such a huge whoop of joy when I learned how to pedal that I lost my balance. Haha. We would go to UP Diliman, on that quiet little downhill road between the College of Music and Film Center, and we would go back and forth, back and forth for an hour every night for 2-3 days until I could coast with my feet up and pedal through 5 meters. Exactly one week after I got the bike, I rode around our village and did over 3 kilometers. I think I could’ve learned it sooner, but I didn’t want to rush it. If I fell, I knew it would set me back with more trauma and fear. So we went with slow and steady.
Posting about learning on social media has been helpful. I’ve gotten comments from other adults saying they didn’t learn as kids, too, and that they’re trying to or are going to try soon. It made the whole thing feel a little less silly, and it was all so encouraging.
There were times when I just couldn’t stay on, and they were EXASPERATING. What got me through was thinking about how I’ve given birth, that I am a mother, that the female body was built for so much more amazing things, and that I’m the most stubborn and obstinate person I know. Surely, given all that, riding a bicycle can’t be that freaking hard. I think it was that hilarious indignation that got me through the first few meters, if I’m being completely honest. It’s the fear that stops us more than anything. Wear a helmet and don’t be shy about wearing elbow pads if you feel you need it. Slap on some knee pads, if that helps at all. (I skipped that, but I won’t judge you if you do. Hahaha.) Then just ride. Keep your eyes on the road ahead, not on the road beneath your wheel. Learn how to brake. Avoid people, cars, and lampposts, and if you must swerve violently and hit something, always aim for the plants. Above all, keep your sense of humor with you.